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Egypt: Amending the law will not prevent terrorism

Ziad Bahaa-Eldin , Wednesday 28 Dec 2016

With 2016 coming to an end, terrorism is again a major concern after the serious escalation in recent weeks causing the death and injury of soldiers, policemen, and unarmed civilians.

The bombing of the Church of St. Peter two weeks ago in particular heightened fears that we’re facing a turning point, as more sophisticated techniques are used, terrorism moves from Sinai to the Cairo, and the objective is to ignite sectarian strife.

Amid these grave developments, it’s natural to hear demands from in and out of the state system, parliament, media, and public opinion for measures to deter terrorism and punish terrorists and their supporters.

According to media reports, recent proposals emphasize in particular amending laws to stiffen penalties for those involved in terrorism, expanding the jurisdiction of military courts to hear terrorism cases, and abridging judicial procedures to expedite prosecution of these crimes.

But while I appreciate the anger at the recent uptick in terrorism and agree wholeheartedly that all possible measures must be taken to confront it, I fear that such policy response is inadequate and inappropriate to the task.

Existing laws already contain ample provisions to punish perpetrators of terrorist crimes, providing for penalties up to death. Moreover, some of the proposed legal changes reported by the media, such as expanding the jurisdiction of military courts, directly contravene the constitution.

Finally, talk of expediting prosecution and reducing the stages of appeal are ideas that deserve consideration in general—the Egyptian judiciary is in fact slow and overburdened.But such change must be part of a broader vision to modernize criminal procedure and the legal system. 

It can’t be undertaken to confront particular crimes, no matter how serious, because it could undermine the foundations of the judicial system and constitutional principles that protect all of society and preserve a balance between rights, duties and responsibilities.

And let us remember that the goal of terrorism is not only to bomb, assassinate, and sow strife, but to erode the foundations of the modern civil state and spur society to abandon the values, ideals, and constitutional safeguards on which it rests.

Terrorism seeks to stoke panic, hatred, and anxiety, thereby goading the public into sacrificing constitutional and legal guarantees and rights. Without thought or planning, we could unwittingly contribute to these objectives and help terrorists reach their ultimate goal.

Combating terrorism involves economic, social, and political measures targeting the sources of terrorism and its incubators. We no doubt must attend to these in the present circumstances, but I won’t address them here. That’s a separate topic that requires a broader, more serious discussion beyond simply calling for economic development and social justice.

My concern today is that Egypt faces a serious threat, much like many developed and developing countries around the world. All of these countries are reconsidering their laws and security policies, and they’re all finding it difficult to reconcile the protection of security with the preservation of the rule of law.

We must engage in the same conversation about those issues, with an awareness of the need to come out of this battle victorious against terrorism, but also having maintained the constitutional foundation for the rule of law and justice.

Our battle with terrorism is not only a security battle. It involves the entire society and both civil and military institutions. It will not succeed but with the application of economic and social policies that can bring social peace and offer hope, opportunity, and faith in the future.

Above all, we must cleave to the rule of law and the constitution as a bulwark that cannot be abandoned under any circumstances.

I wish all Egyptians a happy new year with stability, security, development, and hope for the good of the country and its safety.

*The writer holds a PhD in financial law from the London School of Economics. He is former deputy prime minister, former chairman of the Egyptian Financial Supervisory Authority and former chairman of the General Authority for Investment.

A version of this article was published in Arabic in El-Shorouq newspaper on Monday, 26 December.

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